How to be a Good Student
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000
1. First Things First
Signing up for Classes
- Get a listing of the classes offered.
- Make sure you get the classes you need that are only offered a specific
times of the year. Your counselor can give you this information.
- Before signing up for a class ask other students who have had the class
what to expect.
- Ask which professors are the best and why.
- Pick the best classes, professors, in the times you want them.
- Check the class schedule to see when finals are for each class you are
taking. Make sure that two or more of your heavy class do not have
back-to-back finals. Having finals on separate days gives you a chance to
study in between each final for the next one coming up. Back-to-back finals
blows your mind.
- Sign up early to get your selection of classes.
Calendaring & Planning
Getting Your Books
- Find out how long the term or semester is.
- Get a calendar showing a whole month for each of the months of the
- Usually a class syllabus is issued the first day of class. This usually
lists the major assignments and their due dates.
- Mark on your calendars the dates that each of the assignments are due from
- Look to see if there are places where there are two many items due all at
the same time. If they exist, then look for empty spots on the calendar
before the crowded due date, in which you can arbitrarily move assignments
so you and get them done way before they are due.
- Move the type of assignments will not involve other people or are tied to
knowledge you must have to complete the assignment.
- Often research for papers can be done well in advance of the paper's due
date. By taking advantage of small blocks of time as they become available
early in the term/semester the work can get done a bit at a time.
- To make sure the work gets done, set up a work schedule for each item to
be done. Set your own due dates in advance of the professor's, so if
anything happens, the assignment can still get done in time.
- As new assignments are given throughout the term/semester write them in
immediately on the appropriate calendar sheet and calendar how you will get
the work done for the assignment.
- You can usually save half off the total price of new book fees if you buy
- Buy used books that are the least marked in so you can mark them how you
- Used books which are in bad condition are hard to read and a terrible
distraction when you are trying to study.
- Be one of the first buyers to get your book. You will have a better
selection and chance at getting a used book.
- Find out when the bookstore will have the new terms/semesters books
available for sale.
- Find out what time they will open that day. Often college/university
bookstores will open early on the first day of book sales. Get there a half
an hour earlier that the publicized opening. Often a line starts forming
- Be sure to have a Class Schedule listing the professors name, class, and
- Keep all book receipts in case the professor states that you will not need
the books he had originally listed.
- Do not mark in the books or take new books out of their wrappers until you
know that the professor will be using them.
Make sure that long study sessions includes breaks to refresh yourself and to
let your brain relax for 15 minutes so it will be fresh and ready to study
Placement in the Class
Studies have proved that the student that get the best grades generally sit
in the front row. It is not proven why this phenomena occurs. However, it is
known that there are less distractions and higher interaction with the
professor. Student in the front row can hear better. Since these student think
they will be called on more often, they may prepare for class better.
2. A Good Student Knows His/Her Resources
Know Your Books
- A student best resource is his books. Check over each book
thoroughly. Especially note the following: table of contents, glossary,
appendix, chapter review or synopsis. These sections will allow your to find
- Table of Contents: This gives you a quick overview of what you will be
studding. It also gives you an idea of the material you possess should you
need it in the future.
- Glossary: A good book will have this section. It's a quick way to get
- Appendix: This usually has additional materials that will very helpful
especially if you know they are there.
- Chapter review or synopsis: If you really have a good book it will have a
chapter review or synopsis at the back of each chapter. Reading this before
you begin each chapter will help you know what is important to the author
and what kind of information you will be reading about. This is not a
substitute for reading the chapter. This will be a general overview which is
not what you will need to talk intelligently in class.
- If the book does not posses a chapter review
or synopsis, then start your reading of a new chapter by skimming for:
titles, pictures and captions, names, dates, italic or bold words, and
tables. Then read the whole chapter.
- If you cannot complete the reading before class skim the titles, pictures
and captions, names, dates, italic or bold words, and tables. Then read the
chapter review or synopsis if there is one. Then read as far into the
chapter as possible before class.
- A good way to know if you got what you should have out of the reading is
by answering the chapter review questions at the end of the chapter. If you
don't know the answers find out what they are.
- Do not sell your books back to the bookstore at the end of the
term/semester unless you have to or you truly do not want that book. You
have just spent a lot of time reading and marking up this book. You know
where everything is and what material is in there. It is a good resource for
you in the future. This is not just for the time you are in school but for
all the times you want to say something in documents that you may write and
want to know who said it or how they said it. I have sold back books that I
thought I would have no use for in the future, only to regretted having done
so. I didn't know where to locate that information anywhere else and I
couldn't locate that book again. Professors often change their books every
three or four terms/semesters to keep up with the new material coming out in
the area of study.
- Never buy a used book from a former student of that class until you know
for sure the professor will use that book. You will only know this if you
contact the professor or you wait until the first day of class when you hear
it from the professor's own lips.
- Be sure to know what the library has to offer for future papers and
research. Know how the library and the card catalogue computers work. There
is usually a free tour at the beginning of each new term/semester. You will
only be as successful in your research as you know your resources.
"When the only tool you have is a hammer - every problem begins to look
like a nail. -Abraham Maslow How limiting!
Keeping Your Notes in Order
- Take good ones. Purchase a small hand-sized recorder and a dozen tapes to
record classes. This enables you to get the notes you missed while trying to
write as fast as the professor spoke or the notes that you cannot read
because you scribbled truing to go so fast.
- Until you can afford one, edit your notes within 24 hours of taking them
so you can complete thoughts and correct scribbles while you can still
remember them. If you cannot decipher your notes be sure to get with a
classmate in class to fill in the missing parts.
- Get a large notebook and add dividers. Label a section for each class.
Keep your class notes, syllabus, and handouts for each class in the
appropriate section so you know where everything is. Purchase notebook
pockets and put them in the back of the notebook to keep papers which are to
handed in. Keep things in order. Make sure enough paper is included for each
section for notes.
- Never let your class notes or files out of your sight. Tell the student
that you never loan our your materials, but you are not opposed in letting
him/her coping them. Offer to meet the student at the copier with the files.
This means extra time out of your schedule but you get the material back.
This is super important!
- Hold on to assignments that you have finished
in advance of the due date. Assignments that are handed in early have a
tendency to get lost.
- File all past notes, tests, and other class
materials into a file folder. It would be great to be able to afford a
filing cabinet for these files. Cheap filing cabinets can be gotten from
second hand office supply places. Big warehouse stores like Costco or Sam's
also have a significant cut in cost. If this is not possible buy the file
cabinet, just buy the extra long file folders from Costco or Sam's and get
moving boxes that are slightly larger than the folders. Keep the folders
upright in the box by placing an empty smaller box inside the box next to
the folders to take up the unused space.
- Within the first day or two you will know who
the good students are. Select three of them and get their phone numbers.
Tell them you would like his/her number it in case you have a question on a
class assignment. You will never know when you will desperately needed these
numbers. Keep them safe in the section where your class notes are. I write
mine on the inside of the class notebook divider.
- Sometime during your schooling you will be assigned to do a group project.
Often the professor will have you choose who you will work with. When the
time comes to choose groups everyone tends to hang back hoping someone will
choose them. This is insane.
- Never wait to be chosen, instead, during the first week find out those
classmates who would do a good job and you put them together. You get to
come along for the ride because you are the matchmaker. Be aggressive your
grade depends on it.
- You already know who the "A"
students are by the way they act, the type of questions they ask, and
answers they give in class. Use these people. Often professors will give out
a study guide 24 hours before the test. Looking up the whole sheet of items
is crazy. Memorizing them too is impossible. Look at how many items are on
the sheet. Figure out how many people you would need to divide the work into
about ten items per person. Pass notes to those responsible smart people you
will need. Have them meet you out in the hall for a moment after class to
assign out the work into doable parts.
- Before the meeting happens, draw lines between the different assignments
and be prepared to write each persons name and number down by his
- When you are all out in the hall explain how you have divided up the work.
Each person is to type their assigned answers and run off a copy for each
member of the group.
- Ask them to pick a section and tell you which they will do so you can
write their names and phone by that section.
- Agree on a time that you all can meet at a central place later to exchange
- If a member cannot be at the exchange, then s/he can see that another
member of the group or friend picks up his/her assignment and exchanges it
for the group's copies and gets them back to him/her.
- Make sure they all have your name and phone so they can call you in case a
- Study groups are only as good as the students that are in them. If you
think you need a study group for an upcoming test, chances are that the
material is complicated enough that others will want to join together with
you to talk it out.
- Often, the professors aid can be talked into holding a group study to go
over the material. It is essential to attend these as the Aid knows what is
on the tests and is sympathetic to the students and will give big hints as
to what should and should not be studies for the test.
- Procure past class tests from former students. It is not cheating to do
this. It was a college
- prep class from the college that taught me to do this. The reason it is
not cheating is because every professor knows that s/he must vary tests
every term/semester. S/He is able to pick questions from a computer bank of
questions to make up the tests. The thing that doesn't change is what the
professor thinks is important. The subjects on which the test covers and the
number of questions dealing with a particular subject should give you some
idea of where to base your emphasis for the upcoming test. Be sure to know
that subject matter not just that answer to that particular question on the
- Save your chapter tests to study for the final. These will show you where
to focus your attention in the material. Sometimes the final includes
extractions from each of the previous tests.
3. Mnemonic Methods to
These are words in which each letter represents a concept or idea.
- List the main ideas that are needed to cover a subject.
- Circle the key word out of each statement.
- Take the first letter from each key word and try to arrange the letters
into a word, words, and/or abbreviation. If this is not possible put the
letters in alphabetical order.)
- Picture the acronyms with the subject it represents. The picture should
solidly connect the acronym with the subject. The crazier or weirder the
picture the more likely you will remember it. Example: I had the concepts of
Freud represented by the acronym "BRAIN" I then pictured Freud
with his round glasses and goatee. He had a brain with legs jumping up and
down on his head. It has been five years since I made up that visualization,
but I still remember it clearly. I even drew a picture of it out in the
margin by the material.
- Having your answers memorized by the use of acronyms give you already
organized information ready to write for essay tests.
Putting letters in alphabetical order and memorizing them as such, give order
to the mass letters and helps you bring it back to your remembrance. Sometimes a
letter will be repeated more than once. Write the item with the number of
repetitions as "B to the power of 3, if it appears three times.
Example: A, B3, D, F, H, L2, R
Visualization with a Poem
Use a familiar poem to help you memorize items. Example: One two
buckle my shoe. See the item on your shoe. Three four shut the door. See the
next item hanging on the door. Continue the poem and visualize another items at
the end of each stanza.
Put the items you need to memorize to music. This is how I learned to
spell encyclopedia. To spell Mississippi, I just but it to a chant or beat
See yourself at your front door. In your mind, put an item you are to
remember by the door. Open the door and your in the entry. Visualize the next
item to be memorize in the entry. Now your going up the stairs. See the next
item on the stairs. At the top of the stairs is the kitchen. Visualize what is
in the kitchen. Now go down the hall. What's in the hall? Now your in the master
bedroom, what is there? Look into the master bedroom closet, what is there?
Check out the bathroom, what's in there?
Now, practice seeing yourself go from place to place, in order, visualizing
the place and item together as you go. Repeat this as often as needed to recall
the items in order.
You have three types of memory: instant recall, short term memory, and long
term memory. Instant recall is memory that you recall just after hearing it. Its
total extent is normally seven digits long, like the length of a phone number.
With some practice the instant memory can be moved into short term memory.
Short term memory is memory that has been rehearsed to the point that you
will remember for a few hours or less. Rehearsing it further will move it into
long term memory. Since the mind can instantly remember seven items, those seven
items can each be expanded to represent massive amounts of material. This is
done by making each of the seven items represent a total concept, hence the word
chunking. Each concept could be brought to memory by the use of one or more
mnemonic. In fact, the elements in the seven digit space could be also
represented as an anachronism.
4. Old Fashion Memorization with a Twist
Going over and over the material until it moves
from short term to long term memory is very important. After using all the
gimmicks that mnemonics has to offer, the material still has to be rehearsed
over and over again, over time. It is suggested that the information is
rehearsed at least once every day to be ready for test time. This may seem
impossible at first because a lot of memorization has to take place.
- Memorize the anachronism the key word represent.
- Memorize the keywords and the concept each represents.
- Memorize the anachronism with the visualization picture of the represented
- Place a thumbnail-sized sketch of the picture and the anachronism on the
front of a 3x5 card. Place the keywords of the anachronism on the back.
- Take the cards with you everywhere and use them. These can be recited
while driving, exercising, eating, dressing, waiting for class to start,
waiting in check out lines, for doctor appointments, or other odd moments.
- After the mnemonics are brought to mind by the pictures, take a 3x5 card
and doodle a thumbnail-sized sketch of each of the pictures. The string of
pictures alone should help you recall entire chapters. This is done at least
every day with the old and new material covered until the final. This stops
the all-night cramming before tests or finals. Only a quick daily over view
is needed, because the material is now in long term storage.
Annette Nay, Ph.D.
Annette Nay Homepage
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